Monday, July 22, 2013

A Visit to Former Residence of Chang Hsueh-liang in Wufong, Taiwan

I made a "beat the clock" solo trip to the hidden back mountain border of Taiwan. I had just one and a half days to accomplish it, so the countdown started as soon as I landed at the Taoyuan International Airport. Delayed departure at Fukuoka was the reason for a delayed arrival, causing everything to be an hour later from the original schedule, even deducting the time difference of an hour between Japan and Taiwan. It was 2 PM (3 PM in Japan) in the afternoon when I completed clearance at immigration and customs. "No use panicking. Go easy!" I told myself.

The airport shuttle bus took only 15 minutes to the Taoyuan Station of the Taiwan High Speed Railway (THSR). I was relieved greatly. Ticket purchase was super fast at a special window serving women and seniors only with passport, and I was on board the speed train by 3 PM bound southward.

In another 15 minutes, I was at the Hsinchu THSR station, where I deposited my heavy luggage and souvenirs in the time locker permitting 24 hour overnight stay and quickly exited for the bus headed for Tsing Hua University. The THSR service gave me the bus line number, so I just followed directions.

By 3:30 PM, I was at Tsing Hua University to change buses for Chutong, per the instruction of an ex-Chutong friend. I faced one snag there. The Chutong bus stop was a little further away from the regular Hsinchu bus stop. My embarrassment was on my face because the young man at the small ticket office came out, locked the door, and walked me to the right bus stop where several people were waiting for the Chutong bus. He asked one elderly woman to help me when the bus comes. She nodded and she sat with me on the bench. We waited there for about 15 minutes. Bus showed up and we got on together.

Another snag was that I used up all my small change (coins used for bottled water purchase), and the bus driver didn't accept paper money. This woman paid NT$40 for me from her purse. I offered my NT$100 bill but she didn't accept. She got off before Chutong, but after asking another passenger to signal me when the bus got to Chutong. I showed my appreciation by gestures and with bowed head.

I expected some change of scenery between Hsinchu and Chutong but same scenery continued until the Chutong bus stopped. The fellow passenger was a real help. It was now a little after 5 PM and I got in before the bus station service office closed. I asked the bus station attendant about the morning bus schedules for the following day and confirmed there was no change from the March schedules I had looked up on the Internet. The man in charge kindly suggested that I could take the return bus around noon to Hsinchu Station without any bus transfer on the way back. He didn't name any particular hotel in Chutong, but gave me instructions where I could find hotels a few blocks away. I was able to check into a clean hotel before dark. It was all I wanted on Day 1. I made it! But only with the big help of those two kind women I met on the Chutong bus. Thank you, Chutong ladies!

My destination was Wufong (meaning 5 mountain ranges), situated on the northernmost part of Tri-Mountain (Lion's Head Mountain, Lishan and Baguashan), a scenic area that spread out in Central Taiwan, but close to the Shei-Pa National Park whose Wuling Farms is popular as the vacation land of the Taiwanese, the area known for the aboriginal mountain people "Atayal" or "Tayal" tribes.

Now here's why I needed to go to such a hidden and remote location.

In late 1990s, I befriended a Korean Chinese student named Zhu through my Tokyo friend who taught Japanese at Jilin University. He graduated from Jilin University and got a job in Shanghai. Shanghai and Kitakyushu were pretty close by air when Kitakyushu opened its new airport. I had taken an inaugural one-hour direct flight charter airplane to fly into Shanghai and then traveled to Xian in 2004. I accepted his wedding invitation lightly. Then I found the venue of his wedding was not in Shanghai but in Jilin, his hometown near North Korea. I regretted my hasty answer, but I decided to honor my reply. He sent his brother to Shenyang Airport to escort me to Jllin. On my way back to Shenyang Airport, I was alone and spent a couple of sightseeing days in Shenyang.

There I visited Chang's family residence in downtown Shenyang and there I was truly dumbfounded by the huge chateau-style buildings and the luxurious way of living. The building looked like a big banking headquarters, called Daqinglou (大青樓 - shown up top) which belonged to Chang Zuolin, Hsueh-liang's father, killed in a plot / railroad accident by the Japanese imperial army. Hsueh-liang occupied Xiaoqinlou (小青樓 - shown right). Zuolin had actually his bank in this quarter. Chang's residence is a traditional Chinese quadrangle with a courtyard in the middle, surrounded by a number of concubines' homes of Chang Zuolin. I had a preconceived notion that they were bandits, plundering in the mountainous countries. I had to correct my big misconception. On this trip, I had no knowledge how Hsueh-liang fared in his later life during and after World War II. The gigantic chateau and the mysterious family affairs left a deep impression on me.

While visiting Taiwan often, I came to find a couple of familiar Manchurian names which were associated with Taiwan. One is Aisin Gioro (orAixin Jueluo) clan poet, calligrapher and artist Puru or known as Pu Xinyu, who taught at Normal University. He was a cousin to the last Emperor - Puyi.

The other is Chang Hsueh-liang who spent half a century in house arrest by the order of Chiang Kai-shek, since the 1936 Xian incident. Hsueh-liang was brought to the above noted Wufong (the destination of my hasty overnight trip in April), along the retreating Kuomintang (KMT) from the Continent.

The 7 AM Chutong minibus climbed up curving mountain roads picking up and dropping off passengers along the way for two hours. The bus was following an edge-meandering path along the riverbed; I was not able to see from the bus window. At 9 AM, I was at the small park dedicated to the Chang Hsueh-liang Museum at one of the mountain gorges. I've read that this house was rebuilt similar to the former residence of Hsueh-liang which was destroyed by a typhoon and now a museum by the village master to promote the hot springs in the neighborhood across the river.

I waited for the museum to open at 10 AM. It was a very simple unpretentious dwelling as compared to the Shenyang chateau I saw. An old sewing machine, a chair that dominated the house, fishing rod and sedge hat are the main exhibits with a collection of books in a glass book cabinet. There was a video for visitors to learn more about Chang, in addition to the houseful of photographic illustrations of Hsueh-liang's biography.

The custodial locations of Hsueh-liang changed often, almost annually, while on the Continent. Hsueh-liang should have found his first solace here in Taiwan, represented by the fishing rod and sedge hat with use of hot springs nearby

I did not cross the suspended bridge to visit the hot springs. I hopped onto the return bus after taking photos of the surroundings and a cross on a church, towering over the museum. I got back to the Hsinchu, picked up my luggage deposited at the new Hsinchu Station and headed to Taichung, the Day 2 destination, satisfied with the mission accomplished.

On the way to Taichung I was reciting Hsueh-liang's poem I scribbled down from the stone tablet in front of the museum:

不怕死 不愛錢 no fear of death, no love for money

丈夫 決不 受人憐 a true man never accept pity from others

頂天 立地 男兒漢 me, one stand-up man

磊落 光明 度餘年 will live remaining life with honor and dignity

In 1954, Chang Hsueh-liang sent Chiang Kai-shek a self-critical paper of 200,000 words and was allowed to move from Wufong to Taipei later in 1961, but he was still under informal confinement. It was only after the deaths of Chiang Kai-sheck and Chiang Ching-kuo, Kai-shek's son in 1991 that he became free and chose to live in Hawaii, ending over more than half-century of imprisonment. He died in Hawaii in 2001, as a centenarian.

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